In 1986 I was offered the opportunity, and substantial resources, to answer the question, 'What are the origins of industrial success?' There are, perhaps, more important questions, but not many, and that was certainly the most important question I felt in any way equipped to try to answer. So I accepted the challenge.
It was obvious that there was no shortage of data. Every corporation is required to file detailed returns of its activities. In all Western economies there are several journals which track the performance and activities of leading companies. Case studies, business histories, and business biographies describe how decisions were made and problems overcome. I began to understand that what was needed was not to collect new information, but to establish a framework for understanding what was already known. The development of such a framework became my primary goal, and the purpose of this book is to describe that framework. I will have succeeded if the thoughtful senior executive thinks less often, 'That is something new,' than, 'That makes sense of my experience.'
There were those who told me that the task I had set myself could not be done, or was not worth doing. Business problems were too complex to be susceptible to the use of analytic techniques. Every situation was unique and there could be no valid generalizations. It had even been argued by some (as in Abernathy and Hayes, 1980) that the attempt to apply analytic methods to business issues is at the heart of Western economic decline.
It might be true that there can be no valid generalizations about business, and that there can be no general theories of the origins of corporate success or failure. But it does not seem very likely that it is true. It is not just that similar observations were made ahead of much greater leaps in scientific knowledge. How could we hope to understand something so complex, and so subject to change, as the motion of the planets or the make-up of genetic material? The issues considered in this book seem, on the face of it, to be ones that could respond to analytic tools. I believe that the tools presented in this book do give real help in handling these questions. If they fail to do so, it is more likely that they are the wrong tools than that no tools will ever become available.